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December 7, 2001 - 22 Kislev, 5762

697: Vayeshev

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  696: Vayishlach698: Miketz  

Chanuka  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Chanuka

by Rabbi Mendy Herson

Challenges vary from one place and time to another. Problems come in different shapes and sizes. When we celebrate the Chanuka victory, we are rejoicing at the triumph over an unusual enemy, an adversary that is at once historically atypical yet disturbingly familiar.

Jewish sources describing the Chanuka story indicate that the Syrian-Greek oppressors weren't completely anti-Semitic. When the ancient Greeks conquered geographical areas, they were generally careful not to destroy the indigenous cultures. They just wanted the vanquished ethnic groups to meld into the larger mosaic of the Greek Empire. Their handling of the Jews was really not an exception.

The Greeks had no intrinsic problem with the Jews' adherence to most Jewish practices. They found this respect for tradition and history a praiseworthy trait.

What stuck in their throats was our "obsession" with G-d and the super-rational. Compassion for one's fellow human? Beautiful. Family gatherings to celebrate ethnic pride? Splendid idea. But why do we keep bringing G-d into the mix?

The word "mitzva" doesn't mean "good deed," as it's often colloquially used; no etymologist could ever make that mistake. Mitzva means "commandment" and commandment presupposes a Commander, in this case G-d.

So, when I teach my child that "it's a mitzva" to provide for the needy, I'm saying a lot more than "it's a nice thing to do." I am telling him that G-d has told us to donate to charity. There's a big difference. Religion is defined as adopting a way of life in deference to a Supreme Being. It's losing our own selfish desires in favor of G-d's will. That may grate against the common "I'll do whatever I want" psyche, but-like it or not-that's what religion is.

Doing good things because we find them meaningful and beautiful isn't what a Jewish life is all about. Conducting ourselves properly because we're trying to get to heaven is also missing the point. These are both self-centered attitudes. If I help a poor person because it gives me a good feeling or adds "meaning" to my life, what should I do if I feel nothing for the needy or don't feel good through giving? Should I refrain from helping? Absolutely not, according to Jewish teachings.

If I choose not to steal solely because I feel it's wrong, what happens when I think I can rationalize it, when it seems "appropriate"? If I don't take someone else's property because I don't think I should-I'm the sole arbiter-then I will steal when I think it's justified-except if there's fear of getting caught. If I refrain because G-d told me to, then it's a different story. If I think this case is an exception, then I still need G-d's approval (good luck with that one). The primary thing, however, is that the good be performed, even if it's for selfish reasons. But let's not mistake the tolerable for the ideal.

That's what the Greeks were after. They idolized beauty and intellect, and they wanted the Jews to operate on that level. They encouraged the Jews to retain what they considered palpably beautiful and intellectually stimulating. And Judaism has plenty of that!

But they had no need for human surrender before G-d, for mitzvot which have no given reason-and there are those in the Torah. They had no use for a supra-natural Presence. They focused exclusively on the pleasurable, the sensual, the creature-comforting, the hedonistic.

We allude to this in the paragraph inserted into our thrice daily Amida prayer during Chanuka- v'Al Hanissim. We refer to "the wicked Hellenic government who rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will." What they were out to eradicate from society was the idea of Your Torah and Your will.

Everybody knows that we celebrate our freedom of religion on Chanuka. The Supreme Court of the United States has even declared the menora a universal symbol of that freedom. But what kind of freedom did we really fight for?

This Chanuka, look past the glitz of gifts. Enjoy yourself, but remember what we battled for, and give G-d some thought.


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Vayeisheiv, the Torah narrates the story of Judah and Tamar. "And it was told to Tamar, saying: 'Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah.'"

Why is it important for us to know that Judah was "going up" to Timnah? Why doesn't the Torah simply inform us that Judah was "going"?

As noted by Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, in a later book of the Bible where the name of the city again appears, the association is one of descent rather than ascent. "And Samson went down to Timnah." From this we derive that Timnah was located on the slope of a mountain. A person approaching Timnah from below had to climb up; anyone approaching it from the top of the mountain had to walk downwards. When Tamar was told that her father-in-law was going up, it indicated which direction he was coming from.

When ascending a mountain, it is not a good idea to pause in mid-climb. Neither is a mountain slope an appropriate place to stop and rest. If a mountain climber stops in the middle, not only is he likely to lose momentum, but he also risks losing his footing and falling backward. When a person is headed upward, he must always go forward and persevere.

A Jew's Divine service is likened to climbing a mountain, as it states, "Who will ascend the mountain of the L-rd." When it comes to spiritual matters, one cannot be sluggish or take "time off." An individual who declares himself satisfied with the spiritual level he has already attained and does not strive for even higher levels will eventually lose his footing and tumble, like the mountaineer who decides to take a break in the middle of his climb.

When engaged in the service of G-d, it is impossible to remain in the same place. One must always make an effort to go from strength to strength. Merely "treading water" on the same level ultimately leads to spiritual regression and decline; lack of upward movement invariably results in a downward trend.

During Chanuka, it is customary to light an additional candle each night of the holiday, according to the principle of "increasing in holiness." If one evening we were to kindle the same number of lights as the previous day, it would indicate a state of spiritual decline or regression.

In matters of holiness, we must never content ourselves with yesterday's achievements. For the service of G-d requires perpetual upward motion.

Adapted from Volume 10 of Likutei Sichot


A Slice of Life

The Power of Light
by Marcela Rojas

Menorahs out of bullet shells?

The ancient idea makes perfect sense to Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky of Bais Chabad in S. Monica.

"In the Torah, it says weapons of war will ultimately be used for peace," he said. "So I put 3 and 3 together and got 16."

Six years ago, Levitansky called the S. Monica Police Department and requested hundreds of bullet shells left over from target practice. The idea of making menorah candleholders out of the spent shell casings would be a hit, he thought.

He was right.

"The empty shell casings are not worth anything to us," said Lt. Gary Gallinot, a department spokesman. "It makes a nice product out of something that is used. No one has ever complained about it."

Since 1994, Levitansky has been going back to the police department every Hanukkah to collect the ammunition casings for 9mm and .38-caliber handguns.

He brings them back to Bais Chabad, where dozens of children glue the bullet shells to pieces of painted wood to make menorahs for their families.

During the 15-minute process, the children learn about the meaning of the holiday, which begins at sundown Sunday, December 9 and continues through Monday evening, December 17.

"I don't exactly approve of having bullets in my house, but it does have meaning," said Eric Merenstein, 11, of Beverly Hills, one of the Bais Chabad students.

"There was a war where the Maccabees fought off the Greeks. That was one event that brought about Hanukkah. So it's kind of appropriate to use bullet shells for the menorahs."

Twenty-two centuries ago, during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, an important part of the daily service was to fuel the menorah with sacred olive oil.

When the Syrian Greeks waged a spiritual war with the Jews and invaded the Holy Temple, they left the Jews with only one day's supply of oil.

The Maccabees lighted the menorah with this small vial of olive oil and, miraculously, the candles burned for eight days and eight nights. For this reason, Hanukkah lasts eight days with one candle lighted each day.

To further the historical significance of the holiday, Levitansky also shows children at Bais Chabad how to press olives to get oil from a wood-barreled presser.

"This is all part of the lesson," he said. "Pressing olives is hard work. It symbolizes that in order to get to the good, you have to go through hard times. Good will always prevail. It may not look like that, but it will. That's what Hanukkah is all about."

Making menorahs out of bullet shells is for big kids too.

At Chabad Residential Treatment Center in the Miracle Mile district, about 40 residents recently made menorahs out of tiles and bullet shells donated by a Los Angeles Police Department pistol range.

One resident, Yaakov Zimmerman, 43, said he remembers that when he was in the army in Israel in the 1960s, tank missile shells were used to make menorahs. The same concept is being applied at the six-month drug and alcohol recovery program.

"Everything this program is about is connecting with the spirit of light," said Rabbi Yosef Cunin.

'We don't do many arts and crafts activities, but this is an important one to show the residents how taking something used in violence can be used to contact the spiritual side of ourselves."

Reprinted from the Los Angeles Times


What's New

Lighting Up the Darkness

Bringing the light and hope of Chanuka to Israeli soldiers, whether on remote military bases or in the center of the country, has been an outreach program of Chabad-Lubavitch in Israel for decades. This year will be no different, though our prayers will be even more fervent that we finally merit the Messianic era of world peace that we long await.

World's Largest Menora

Be part of the Chanuka celebrations at the World's Largest Chanuka Menora at Fifth Ave. and 59th St. in New York City. The menora will be lit on Sunday, Dec. 9-Thursday, Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 10 at 3:38 p.m.; Saturday night, Dec. 11 at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 16 at 5:30 p.m. On Saturday night, a Chanuka Parade of cars, vans and mobile homes topped with menoras will travel from Lubavitch World Headquarters to the lighting in NYC. On Sunday there will be live music, free latkes and Chanuka gelt. For more info call the Lubavitch Youth Organization at (212) 736-8400. For public menora lightings in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.

Tzivos Hashem Chanuka Contest

"The Chanukah Challenge" is an international contest for children under the age of Bar/Bat Mitzva. The Challenge encourages children to light the Chanuka menora, eat latkas, play dreidle, and attend a Chanuka party. Great prizes are being raffled off. The contest can be entered at www.jewishkidsonline.com or by sending a list of activities performed with a parent's signature to: Chanuka Challenge, 332 Kingston Ave., Bklyn., NY, 11213


The Rebbe Writes

Chanukah, 5715 [1954]

...In this connection, and apropos of Chanukah, it would be timely to reflect on the significance of the Chanukah Lights. Although all Mitzvoth issue from One G-d, the perfect Unity, there are many aspects to every Mitzvah, just as the complexity of our physical world is likewise created from His Mitzvah. Nevertheless, the performance of the Mitzvah, accompanied by an appreciation of its significance, is definitely beneficial.

With this in mind, I wish to point out what I consider very significant in connection with the significance of Chanukah, as it is emphasized by the Chanukah Lights, specifically by the two conditions attending the performance of this Mitzvah: (a) The light is to shine forth "outside" and (b) the light is to grow every night by the addition of one more candle each night of Chanukah. Thus, the message of Chanukah is to bring home to every Jew his duty to spread the "light" of the Torah and the "candles" of the Mitzvoth, especially in times of darkness, and to do so with ever growing effort.

A man's influence is generally limited, either to his immediate environment, his family and friends, or if he is a teacher or lecturer, to a wider circle. The journalist, however, whose words and thoughts enjoy wide currency through the printed word, enjoys a much greater influence; he is less limited in space, since the printed word travels far, and in time, since it endures on record.

Thus you are privileged to have far greater opportunities in exercising influence than the average person, to help illuminate the darkness of the night with, I trust, ever growing effect. These are not mere opportunities, for as everything in Nature strives to transform itself form a state of potentiality to actuality, so all human potentialities must be actualized for the general good, the true good. The way of Providence is inscrutable. Although logically, as the Chanukah candles indicate, one should begin by lighting up his home first, and then seeing to it that its light dispels the darkness outside as far as possible, the process is sometimes reversed; bringing light to others far away, brings success in carrying the light closer home.

I send you my prayerful wishes for success in your personal affairs, which is closely associated with your public work and your influence, all the more so, since in addition to being a son of the "kingdom of priest and a holy nation," you are actually a kohen among Jews.

With blessing,


23rd of Kislev, 5713 [1952]

Sholom u'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:

...With the approach of Chanukah, I extend to you herewith my sincere wishes for a happy and inspiring Chanukah.

The message of Chanukah is important and timely to all Jews, but even more so to Jews living in surroundings with comparatively little Jewish vitality and activity. It is precisely in such circumstance that Chanukah offers many a useful lesson. One such lesson I wish to make the subject of this message.

It is noteworthy that the Chanukah lights must be kindled after sunset, when it is dark outside, unlike the lights that were kindled in the Beth Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] much earlier, or the Sabbath lights kindled on Friday before sunset.

There is another difference: the Beth Hamikdosh-and the Sabbath-lights have their place indoors, while the place of Chanukah lights is at the entrance to the home (when Jews lived freely in their land, the place was outside the entrance). Finally, there is yet another distinction: in the former two cases the lights remain the same, while the Chanukah lights are increased every night.

The lesson which seems to be indicated by the Chanukah lights is that besides lighting up the home (Sabbath lights) and the synagogue and Yeshiva (substituting for the Sanctuary of old), the Jew has the additional responsibility of lighting up the "outside," the whole environment. Moreover, when conditions are unfavorable (it is "dark" outside), it is then not enough to make a light and maintain it, though it is also an achievement in view of the darkness; but it is necessary to steadily increase the lights, through steadily growing efforts to spread the light of Torah and mitzvoth, to illuminate not only one's home, but the whole environment as well...


Rambam this week

15 Kislev 5762

Prohibition 318: cursing parents

By this prohibition it is forbidden to curse one's parents (with the Divine Name). It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 21:17): "He that curses his father of his mother shall surely be put to death." (The Torah is sever with respect not only to striking or cursing a parent, but also to any act of contempt.)


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Sunday night we will kindle the first light of Chanuka, the literal meaning of which is "inauguration" or "dedication." Chanuka celebrates the purification and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, after its defilement by the Greeks.

Whenever we celebrate a Jewish holiday, the same spiritual forces that came into play thousands of years ago are reenacted, as we say in our prayers, "In those days and in our times." During Chanuka, we are imbued with an extra strength to renew and rededicate the spiritual "Holy Temple" that exists within each of us. Today, the enemy is the Evil Inclination and the difficulties of the exile, which threaten to "defile the oil" and "cause us to forget Your Torah." On Chanuka, our eternal bond with G-d is reinforced and fortified.

"Chinuch," which is also translated as "education," means becoming accustomed to something new. Whenever we embark on a new course, we need extra strength and incentive to succeed. For example, it is a Jewish custom that when a Jewish boy is brought to "cheder" for the first time, we throw candies at him and tell him they are from the angel Michael. The candies make the child happy, and instill in him the desire to learn. After the Holy Temple was defiled, an extra measure of holiness was required. The self-sacrifice of the Jewish people for the sanctification of G-d's Name provided this extra spiritual power that allowed the Temple to be rededicated and renewed.

The miracle of Chanuka involved light, which is symbolic of an intensification and increase in Torah and mitzvot, as it states, "For a candle is a mitzva, and the Torah is light." On each day of Chanuka we light an additional candle, increasing the illumination in the world. Indeed, this is the service of the Jew throughout the year: to successfully utilize the strength we derive from Chanuka to rededicate ourselves to Torah and mitzvot, in an ever-increasing manner.

May the lights of Chanuka culminate in the light of the era of Moshiach, when "the night will shine like the day; darkness will be as the light."


Thoughts that Count

These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph (Gen. 37:2)

The name Joseph (Yosef) comes from the Hebrew meaning to add or increase. Jacob is symbolic of every Jew. The lesson to be derived is that a Jew must never allow himself to stagnate, but must always climb upward along the spiritual "ladder" of Yiddishkeit.

(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov)


And they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him (Gen. 37:4)

The main component of all controversy is the absence of dialogue, the unwillingness to listen to what someone else has to say and understand it from his perspective. If people would really know how to talk to each other, most of the time they would discover that they have nothing to argue about.

(Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschitz)


In my dream, behold, a vine was before me (Gen. 40:9)

Why did Joseph interpret the chief butler's dream optimistically, whereas the chief baker's dream received a negative interpretation? The chief butler had dreamt about the fruits of the Land of Israel, which are the handiworks of G-d rather than of man. The chief baker, by contrast, dreamt about baked goods, which are made by man and symbolize an arrogant attitude of "my strength and the strength of my hands." Such a dream, Joseph figured, could not bode well for the future.

(Nahar Shalom)


And Joseph went into the house to do his business (Gen. 39:11)

According to the Targum (translation into Aramaic) of Onkelos, Joseph went in to "examine the accounts" (for which he was responsible) of Potiphar's household. Indeed, this was the greatness of Joseph: the ability to maintain the highest level of attachment to G-d even while actively involved in worldly pursuits.

(Derech Mitzvotecha)


It Once Happened

Avraham Pinchas lived 100 years ago in Baghdad. The wealthy Jewish merchant usually had a table full of guests, but this Shabbat he only had one, a poor man he had invited home from the synagogue. The guest was awed by the plush richness around him: the thick Persian rugs, gold inlayed dishes and beautifully decorated walls. Only one thing perplexed him: in the middle of the table stood an old, empty, broken bottle that looked as if it had once contained olive oil.

When Mr. Pinchas noticed his guest's interest in the odd artifact, he told him the following story.

"My father was a respected businessman, but he was always busy and left me in my grandfather's care. Every morning my grandfather would wake me, make sure I washed my hands, said the morning blessings and didn't forget my lunch. Then just before I left for school, he would give me a kiss on my forehead, raise his hands and say, 'Va'ani ana ani ba' ['And I, where will I go?' (Gen. 37:30)]. Later, I learned that this is what Reuven cried out when he discovered that Joseph was no longer in the pit and it was impossible to save him. But I had no idea why my grandfather always said that.

"Then, when I was 14 years old, tragedy struck: my grandfather passed away. I began to accompany my father to work. My father tried to make sure that I prayed and studied Torah but he was always very busy. I was so fascinated by his business that I didn't pay much attention to my studies.

"Two years later, my father died suddenly. Besides the fact that I was now alone, I had to decide what to do with the business. I was given the choice of selling it, or trying my luck as a manager. Against the advice of lawyers, I chose the latter.

"Well, I took to it like a fish to water. It wasn't long before I was quite successful. But I began to feel out of place as an observant Jew. I felt that keeping Shabbat and eating kosher prevented me from expanding my business. Slowly but surely I became less observant, and I discovered that the more commandments I dropped, the more successful I became.

"Several years passed. One day I was walking in the street when I noticed a Jewish boy, maybe 13 years old, sitting on the sidewalk crying. I asked him what was wrong. 'Oh thank you, sir,' he said 'but this is something only Jews would understand.'

"His words stabbed me in the heart. 'I am also Jewish...' I stammered.

"'Oh, I'm sorry,' he answered, 'I didn't mean to offend you. It's just that I'm very sad about my home situation. We are very poor...' The boy looked up at me and wiped his eyes with his shirtsleeve. 'My father died a while ago and my mother works hard to support my six brothers and sisters. Well, this morning my mother told us that tonight is Chanuka. We prayed for a miracle, that we might find some money with which to buy oil. We were so happy when my sister found a coin behind a drawer! I ran right to the store and bought a small bottle of oil. I was walking home, holding the bottle and dreaming about Chanuka. I was even imagining that Moshiach might come now, and my mother will start to smile again. Unfortunately, I wasn't looking where I was going, and I tripped. I watched in horror as the bottle flew from my hands and landed on a stone. It broke, and all the oil spilled out. 'Va'ani ana ani ba!' With these words, the boy began to wail.

"At that, I suddenly realized what my grandfather had meant. He must have known that this would happen. That broken bottle is me! And the spilled oil is my Jewish soul - I've lost my Jewish soul!

"As if in a trance, I withdrew some money from my pocket and handed it to the boy. 'Go back to the store,' I told him. 'Buy what you want, and have a happy Chanuka! Go!'

"When the boy was gone, I carefully picked up the bottle and carried it home, still in shock. I sent the servants away and when I was alone, I just stood there, looking at it and weeping. Then the thought struck me, 'A Jew can't lose his Jewish soul.' Maybe I had ignored it for a while, but I'm sure it's still there. I took my grandfather's menora out of the cabinet, dusted it off, found some oil and a wick and lit the first Chanuka candle.

"Its light made me feel alive again. I even decided that the next morning I would begin putting on tefilin. The following night I lit two candles and decided that from now on I would eat only kosher. The third night, I decided to begin learning Torah. The night after that I made the decision to keep Shabbat. By the end of Chanuka I had become a new man. A renewed man. The Chanuka lights had saved me.

"So that is the reason I keep that broken bottle: to remind me how the miracle of the oil saved my life."

Reprinted from the Ohr Tmimim Newsletter, www.ohrtmimim.org


Moshiach Matters

Through lighting the Chanuka candles, we bring out the quality of light that exists in all the mitzvot and thus, hasten the coming of the time when we will merit the kindling of the menora-and the Chanuka lights-in the Third Holy Temple. Then, the entire world will be illuminated with the light of Torah.

(From a talk of the the Rebbe, third night of Chanuka, 5751)


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